The Concert -- Film Review

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ROME -- Radu Mihaileanu returns to form in "The Concert," which echoes the fable-like brilliance of his "Train of Life," and once again pokes critical yet always loving fun at what lies behind power, ambition and even failure. With terrific performances by its Russian-Franco-Romanian cast, "The Concert" will travel far in Europe while in the U.S., the Weinstein Co. will ensure art house visibility to this witty, moving story.

Andrei Filipov (Alexei Guskov) is a former conductor of the Bolshoi Orchestra, who was stripped of his position in 1980 for refusing to fire his Jewish musicians, as part of Brezhnev's anti-Semitic decrees. A recovered alcoholic, he works a denigrating janitorial job at the Bolshoi while his wife runs a business procuring extras for the grotesquely lavish weddings and funerals of Russian tycoons.

When Andrei intercepts a fax from the Theatre du Chatelet inviting the Bolshoi Orchestra to Paris, he comes up with a plan to redeem his dream. He'll bring together his old musicians (now working rag-tag jobs) and they'll pretend to be the famed orchestra to play Tchaikovsky's "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra." His only demand is that celebrated French violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Melanie Laurent) accompany them, for mysteriously personal reasons.

The greatest humor lies in the first part of "The Concert," most of all in the clash between Andrei, his best friend and first cellist Sacha (Dmitry Nazarov) and Ivan Gavrilov (Valeri Barinov), the Party official responsible for their demise. The latter immediately accepts to the job of being the fake orchestra's fake manager, secretly dying to see Paris despite his endless spouting of Party rhetoric.
Mihaileanu opts for different filmmaking styles in depicting East and West. A fixed camera shows the French as elegant but staid, whereas the Russians are shot mostly with a hand-held camera, and are lively in their outdated clothes and decrepit surroundings. While these stereotypes work in the beginning, they are over-indulged once the orchestra arrives in Paris.

The Russians, gypsies and Jews are simply too money-obsessed, unruly and uncouth in the story's meandering subplots. "The Concert" loses some vitality and humor in the middle, and even what the director usually does best -- making fairy tales plausible and joyous with great wit and humanity.

However, a pivotal scene between Andrei and Anne-Marie re-establishes the story's footing, and achingly captures the difference between the decades-long suffering and lost dreams of the Russians in particular and the Eastern bloc in general, and the freer, less tormented West.

Mihaileanu then deftly builds up to the film's emotional ending, a beautiful final sequence that evokes tears and laughter as it wraps up the story's various threads.

Venue: Rome International Film Festival

Production companies: Oi Oi Oi Productions, Les Productions Du Tresor
Cast: Alexei Guskov, Dmitry Nazarov, Melanie Laurent, Francois Berleand, Miou Miou, Valeri Barinov, Anna Kamenkova Pavlova, Lionel Abelanksi
Director/screenwriter: Radu Mihaileanu
Producer: Alain Attal
Director of photography: Laurent Dailland
Production designer: Cristian Niculescu
Music: Armand Amar
Costume designers: Viorica Petrovici, Maira Ramedhan Levy
Editor: Ludovic Troch
Sales Agent: Wild Bunch
No rating, 123 minutes
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